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Hidden categories: Requests for etymologies in Esperanto entries Requests for etymologies in Swedish entries. Namespaces Entry Discussion. This comparison is necessary because Gaul and Italy constitute two antipodal points regarding the survival of public authority in the interpretation of traditional history: the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths would be the most romanized of the barbarians kingdoms while the Kingdom of the Franks would be the least one.
From political history's account, it would mean the absence of a public authority in Gaul and its continuity in Italy. The study of diverse reactions to famine in both regions can put this perspective to the test. An analysis of the whole set of Cassiodorus' letters reveals that, in the face of the gravity of the food crisis, there was a series of measures taken by the central power to confront the problem.
Among these measures, there were price control, prohibition of foodstuff exportation, purchase of food from provinces which had had a good harvest in the previous year, distribution of grain from the granaries in the cities most affected by famine. In the letter sent to Ambrosius, Cassiodorus recalled that, due to the exceptionally abundant harvest, its fruits should be collected and stocked to prepare for the scarcity of the months to come Cassiodoro, , XII, Cassiodorus wanted to avoid making the weight of taxation fall upon a single province.
He introduced a new division of taxes, increasing the burden over Istria, which had had a better harvest than the other provinces. In this way, he sought to avoid having the products requested from this province - wheat, oil and wine - sent somewhere else or abroad. Furthermore, Cassiodorus sent an official to supervise the execution of his measures. It is easy to conclude from Cassiodorus' correspondence that, in the early 7 th century in Ostrogothic Italy, there was a coordinated action by public agents againstthe famine. This action comprised elements of calculation and prediction of harvests, prices of foodstuff, and also of expected shortages in the following months.
The contrast with contemporary events in Gaul around the same time is, at first sight, impressive. The most complete account of food crises in the 5 th and 6 th centuries in Gaul that we have at our disposal are beyond any doubt those of Gregory of Tours. These crises appear several times throughout his Histories , evidencing the author's interest in the matter. This interest sets him apart from other Merovingian authors, who have given famine scarce attention. It is the case, specifically, of Fredegar and the author of the Liber Historiae Francorum.
Let us not, however, deceive ourselves: in Gregory's work, the famine was one of the narrative devices that illustrate the combat of the churches against the heretics. On only one occasion in Histories , hunger was not associated with the action of a sinner or with prodigies Gregory of Tours, , VII, We would now like to concentrate on the bishop of Tours' account of the famine that happened in Burgundy in the late 5 th century.
Since people were scattered throughout many regions and there was no one to give alms to the poor, Ecdicius, a senator and one of Sidonius' close men, having, according to Gregory, placed God in his trust, accomplished something great. Seeing that the famine grew more severe than before, he sent his servants with horses and carts to the cities surrounding his residence so that they could bring him those whom the famine was torturing. The servants complied with his will and brought to his residence all the poor they could find.
Thus, having been fed by Ecdicius during that desolate time, they were saved from fatal hunger. They were over four thousand men and women. Later, when the abundance returned, Ecdicius once more provided transport, delivering each of them to their abodes. Gregory adds that, after the poor had gone home, a voice from heaven was heard by Ecdicius, telling him that, for having done what he did, for having obeyed his words satisfying the poor's hunger, he and his posterity would never lack bread. It is important to stress three aspects of the Gregorian account.
First, the fact that there would be no one to distribute alms to the poor - what reinforces, at first sight, the idea of a breakdown of public authority in late 5 th century Burgundy. Second, the fact that the decision to help the poor would have come out of the bishop's initiative, with God as his witness. Third, even as Gregory suggests the exceptionality of Ecdicius' acts, he makes references to similar deeds that would have been performed by Patient, bishop of Lyon, during the same famine.
In Gregory's account, just like in Cassiodorus' letters, we find two episodes of shortage involving public agents - in the Italian case, a Praetorian prefect; in the Burgundian one, a senator. The participation of public agents seems to be the only common point between the two accounts. As for the rest, everything leads us to believe that we are facing two distinctively different behaviors.
In Cassiodorus' Italy, the act of prediction, the management of scarce resources and a taxation policy took into account previous harvests, a forecast of future harvests, as well as a system of prices and exports control. At the other side of the Alps, the Gregorian account stresseed personal initiative, inspired and motivated by divine will. There is, at first, no sign of mobilization of public agents or resources.
Even though Ecdicius was a senator, Gregory does not associate his actions towards the famished with the function he exercised, but solely with his personal qualities. Sidonius Apollinaris' letter to Bishop Patient of Lyon presented an account that beard many similarities with the writings of Gregory.
The letter consisted in an extensive commendation of the bishop of Lyon. What interests us more, however, is the excerpt in which Sidonius refers to his assistance to the hungry. He observed that, although Patient shared some of the virtues he listed with his colleagues, other virtueswould be his alone: the humanity with which he freely distributed alms around the desolate Gauls and ravaged places, with his own denarii , after the incursion of the Goths and the burning of the crops.
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Sidonius stressed that it would have already been an extraordinary good deed to these people emaciated by famine, if wheat was sold to them as a merchantable good and not given as a gift. The significance of the exceptionality is not quantitative, but qualitative: Gregory and Sidonius presented Ecdicius' and Patient's deeds as derived from a catalog of virtues that both authors unequivocally establish. In both accounts, the stress lies not in the function they performed - senator and bishop, respectively. In Gaul, from the late 5 th century to the end of the 6 th , the aid to the poor, even when undertaken by men of power, was considered an exceptional fact, stemming from the characters' personal virtues.
The comparison between Cassiodorus' letters, Sidonius', and Gregory's account in his Histories adds element to the dossier about the crisis of public authority in the West between the 5 th and the 6 th centuries. The argument which dates from the works of N. Fustel de Coulanges and has held steady ever since, states that, due to the disappearance of the idea of res publica , the very notion of public service in Gaul would have been compromised. Thus, the behavior of men of power in the face of famine would show that, in Gaul, the idea of public service had been replaced by personal initiative founded on the imperative of charity.
This argument sounds even more convincing because it is not until as late as that we can find texts from the Frankish royal power detailing measures against the famine we refer to the Capitulare Episcoporum. The Carolingians seem to have been the first ones to have taken steps to curb famines and their effects.
Compared to the Carolingians, the Merovingian princes posed, in light of this documental evidence, a paltry contrast. We would like to propose another interpretation of the absence of normative texts dealing with the battle against famine in the Merovingian period, without recurring to the argument about the circumstances of transmission or losses of these texts.
Joseph is the venerated patriarch who, predicting the scarcity that would follow the seven years of abundance , knew how to remedy it easily. He also believed that those who offered assistance during an unforeseeable calamity were no lesser men than Joseph. The reference to Joseph and his capacity to predict the scarcity following the seven years of plenty shows that, in Sidonius' text, management was associated with battling famine. Joseph's example would serve to highlight this managerial dimension. It is important to stress that, in his letter to Ambrosius, Cassiodorus introduced his function as a continuation of the one exercised by Joseph: he reminds Ambrosius that the first to have occupied his current dignity requested that the copiousness of the past should be used to alleviate the shortage of the present Cassiodoro, , XII, He predicted praevidit scarcity and found means to remedy it.
Thus, the portrait he paints of Patient carries at least one element in common with Cassiodorus'. On the other hand, it is necessary to acknowledge that the absence of normative texts about the battle against famine in the Merovingian period is not an exhaustive evidence that Merovingian kings never acted in this sense. Of course, this does not prove they did, either. However, some clues deserve to be taken into account. Gregory of Tours, in his Histories , said that the king Clothar ordered all churches in the kingdom to surrender a third of their income to its revenue.
Public Agents and the Famine in the First Centuries of the Middle Ages
Although the bishops consented to and signed this decree against their will, the courageous Injuriosus refused to do so. Also, there are several examples of measures dedicated to the needs of the poor in the Conciliar Canons. The 5 th Canon of the Council of Tours, in , proclaimed that each civitas should provide sufficient food to the poor and the homeless according to its resources; village priests, as well as the cities' inhabitants,, should feed the poor so that they did not drift to other cities Gaudemet, , p.
On the other hand, it would be a mistake to consider Ecdicius and Patient as mere "private parties. Gregory of Tours and, even more so, Sidonius, make reference to a military feat performed by Ecdicius that would have occurred around , when he managed to break the Visigothic siege and enter Clermont with eighteen men. Sidonius also states that Ecdicius encouraged Latin studies among the inhabitants of Auvergne, who supported the Roman cause. It was not like a "particular" that he fed the poor when there was the famine described by Gregory of Tours and Sidonius.
If this had been the case, the praise of the bishop of Tours on the charity of this character would make perfect sense. However, it was not a simple "particular". The first reference to Ecdicius in the letters of Sidonius mentioned citizens of Auvergne wishing his return Sidonius Apollinaris, , II, 1. Sidonius also stated that Ecdicius encouraged Latin studies among the inhabitants of Auvergne, who supported the cause of Rome. His letters also said that long before he was elevated to the rank of patrician, Ecdicius became worthy of it, having in his hands the scales of justice, but fighting with weapons in their hands Sidonius Apollinaris, , V, There is further evidence of the political role of Ecdicius in the time of the famine mentioned by Sidonius - this hunger that is closely related to the action of the Visigoths in Burgundy Sidonius Apollinaris, , VI, Jordanes said that when Clermont was taken by the Visigoths, Ecdicius was the general who commanded the city and already had the patrician title.
He was then called by the emperor Nepos to go to Italy; later, he was replaced by Orestes Jordanes, , Ecdicius' actions, such as depicted in Sidonius' correspondence, exhibited a public character. Would there be, then, a contradiction in his account? A public character in military feats and a private character in the assistance to the poor?
We should not forget that Sidonius' account was written as a panegyric to laud his brother-in-law's political career.
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The excerpt in which he mentioned how Ecdicius sated the hunger of the poor with his own resources did not stretch from the rule. Actions for the benefit of the poor performed by the Roman senatorial aristocracy also involved the private resources of great public characters. This ostensive generosity was a means to demonstrate an aptitude to the exercise of public functions within the civitas.
Everything that it is known about Patient of Lyon comes practically from what we can piece from Sidonius Apollinaris. This champion of Nicene orthodoxy found in Gregory and Sidonius the pitchers of his actions on behalf of the hungry poor. Judging from the Life of St. Germanus of Auxerre, work that he commissioned, written by Constantius of Lyon, the fight against heresy seems to have been the main theme of his pontificate. The accounts we just analyzed do not gloss over the fact that Ecdicius and Patient were public agents. Gregory clearly stated that the former was a senator and the latter a bishop.
Sidonius indicated his title by addressing his letter to Patient. The positions of senator and bishop brought with them a series of responsibilities that included aiding victims of famine, which Sidonius was not supposed to ignore.
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But we ought to take into account the propensity to present the actions of all characters in light of the struggle between saints and sinners that the Gregory himself mentioned in the preface to the Histories as a key to the reading of his work. It is very likely that the actions of the public agents were presented in this same fashion in Episcopal writings throughout the 6 th century.
One of the best examples in this regard is one of Venantius Fortunatus's poems. The Carmina are a substantial source of information on Frankish Royalty: in its eleven books, there are thirty poems dealing with kings or queens. Shortly after his arrival in Gaul, Fortunatus spoke in Metz epithalamiums of the wedding of Sigebert and Brunhilda, followed by a brief eulogy to mark the conversion of Brunhild to Catholicism.
Then in Paris, he gave a long eulogy dedicated to King Charibert ; he wrote two poems, the first one about the Church of Paris, the second one about the gardens of Ultrogota, Childebert I's widow In , he wrote a long text about the death of Princess Galswinta. In , when Gregory became bishop of Tours, Fortunatus wrote two poems glorifying Sigebert and Brunhild.
Fortunatus also pronounced the eulogy to the King Chilperic and Queen Fredegond in at the Council of Berny, which was summoned by Chilperic in order to judge Gregory of Tours. At the same time, he wrote two poems to Chilperic and Fredegond to comfort them for the loss of his two sons, including their epitaph. Let us pay attention, first of all, to its title: "To count Sigoaldus, who gave food to the poor on behalf of the king. However, just like the Histories and Sidonius's letters, Fortunatus's text stresseed the personal qualities of count Sigoaldus. He also described the aid to the poor in terms that emerge from "commercial" language: the rich gave food to those who were fated to perish, receiving from God, in exchange, plentiful boons.
The money that he - the wealthy man - distributed on earth was sent to heaven. They would be grains sown envisaging a bountiful harvest. The terms employed in Fortunatus's text refer to the felix commercium. Fortunatus proceded making a plea for goods and likens the Christ to a sort of treasurer, who safeguards the seed given to the poor and returns it later.
Nevertheless, the direct beneficiary of count Sigoaldus' action would be King Childebert. Sigoaldus was supposed to distribute food supplies to the poor in the King's name and authority so that the power of the grandson would match that of his grandfather. The efficacy of the action was not in question: Childebert was supposed to enjoy a thriving health and flourish on the throne on which his grandfather Clotaire I was seated. The aid to the poor was only one of the domains in which Sigoaldus demonstrated his submission to Childebert.
The countalso went to St. Martin's shrine to invoke the saint's assistance on behalf of the king. In this Fortunatus' poem, we clearly see that individual charity and the actions of public agents are compatible. Even more importantly, the deeds of count Sigoaldus, who was acting on behalf of the King, are presented as personal charity. The count and his family were natives of Austrasia. Fortunatus described this journey in poem 16, book XI of the Carmina. As Fortunatus himself d acknowledged, the count gave food to the poor on Childebert's behalf "so that the majesty of the king was manifested".
Fortunatus's poem is extraordinary, because it combined a praise of the personal virtues of those aiding famine victims with the recognition that, in doing so, they act as public agents. What this text showed is that in Gaul, during the second half of the 6 th century, the two capacities worked in tandem. In other words, the deeds of public agents were described in terms that it highlighted the extraordinary and virtuous character of these agents. Thus, the easiness with which it is possible, at least at first, to oppose the "public" or "private" elements in the battle against famine would have had, respectively, in Cassiodorus' Italy and in Gaul, at least during the Merovingian period.
Thanks to the poem Fortunatus dedicated to count Sigoaldus, we observe that rhetoric is an integral part in the definition of food crises. The latter involves praises of individual actions to omens announcing crises to the benevolent deeds of rulers and public powers. In this account, each one of these elements received a treatment - individually, or as a whole - that helps us understand both the meaning of famine and the duties of rulers and private parties towards the victims of food shortages.
The absence of royal edicts and precepts about famine before the 8 th century does not necessarily imply the lack of actions by the public power and their agents towards famine victims before the Carolingians. What is observed in the turn from the 6 th to the 7 th century is less a shift in the practice of assistance to the starving poor than in the way this assistance is described. The conciliar texts also show that, in the Merovingian period, the assistance to the poor constituted an instrument of public management, in addition to being a practice construed by the bishops as exceptional and rooted in charity.
Let us now return to Cassiodorus's Variae. It is true that, in documental terms, there is nothing comparable in Merovingian Gaul.
That does not mean, however, that aiding the poor was an unfamiliar practice to the public agents. The question concerns, more precisely, the different ways in which this action was described in the Variae , on the one hand, and in the texts of Sidonius, Gregory, and Fortunatus, on the other. We should not forget that the Variae were an apologia to the Ostrogothic administration Barnish, , p. In addition to being managerial instruments, these letters played a role in the commendation of Ostrogothic power. In this sense, they were also not immune to rhetoric.
In fact, the truth is quite the opposite. This vulnerability to rhetoric can be glimpsed from the references to Joseph. Or even whenCassiodorus claimd to be aware that there was a shortage of foodstuff in Gaul, in a letter to count Amabilis. This shortage wasa situation that the market, in its constant state of alert, seized as an opportunity to sell goods acquired at a lower price at a higher margin. The admonishment was cleverly followed by Cassiodorus's assurance that sellers would be appeased just as those in need would receive help Cassiodoro, , IV, 5.
It is a means of highlighting the efficiency of the administration. The purposes of the texts from late 5 th and 6 th century Gaul that we have at our disposal are noticeably distinct. Sidonius, Gregory, and Fortunatus hoped to stress the extraordinary character of the actions of the characters they describe. The actions of Patient, Ecdicius, and Sigoaldus for the benefit of the famished were portrayed as exceptional manifestations of charity.
One of evidences that these authors' descriptions, in Gaul, transcended the traditional role of the keepers of public functions under the Roman Empire can be found in Sidonius's letter. One of the principal merits of the recent work on Gregory's Histories was to combat the widespread opinion in the French historiography of the first half of the twentieth century.
According to Gregory of Tours the historiography was "ignorant" and "naive. Goffart recognized in the works of Gregory of Tours a conscious plan, a philosophy of history and even a satirical style. Gregory would have exposed this philosophy in the prolog of his second book when he describes the deeds of saints, the tragedies of the people and the wars of the kings. This mixture constituted the very essence of the history to the Bishop of Tours.
This history, in which coexisted the blessed and doomed to damnation, could not result either in progress or decline, contrary to expectations of Orosius and Jerome. Its essence, from the Creation, would be the dichotomy between holiness and human actions Goffart, , p.
In the opinion of M. Gregory's account about Ecdicius makes sense in a history marked by the opposition between saints and sinners. This article began by evoking the famine of years and its effects in Italy. Through this example, we planned to put the question of the role of climatic factors in triggering famine. It is not a simple task. The texts that we have, as well as in the archaeological remains turn it hard to distinguish the hungry that emerged from conflicts that ravaged the peninsula, from the one derived from climatic factors.
Cassiodorus highlighted the role of climatic events, while Procopius, though do not hide these incidents, did not hesitate to mention the war which is, after all, the subject of his work and their role in the food crisis. Nevertheless, we must remember that from the perspective of Cassiodorus, highlighting the role of conflicts against the imperial army would mean to recognize the limitations or the incompetence of the Ostrogothic administration.
As we saw above, that was not the purpose of the letters of Cassiodorus. In the case of Procopius, the association between war and famine appeared sharply. Climatic events appeared in his work as the status of a sign: after the sun has arisen without rays, the Romans would have been affected by war, hunger and more disastrous calamities Procopius, , XIV, Adding further complications, there is the fact that the Liber Pontificalis did not mention climate events, but described the famine in relation to the conflict between the armies of Belisario and the Ostrogothic troops.
Maybe Cassiodorus had deliberately exaggerated the role of weather events, to undervalue the burden of the conflict with the imperial army and thus enhance the effectiveness of Ostrogothic administration. If we observe the two great currents proposing theories to explain the famine - the "neo-Malthusian" and the Entitlement Approach - climate issues do not constitute the axis around which hunger is explained. The great originality of the Entitlement Approach is to disassociate the phenomenon of famine from food production or agriculture development.
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